Today’s youth are under attack in more ways than one can imagine. In addition to the usual teen issues, they are dealing with a variety of health issues including poor diets, lack of physical activity, sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), bullying, and even mental health issues like depression. To combat this health crisis, the City of St. Louis Department of Health has developed an innovative way to help the youth in this area embrace a healthier lifestyle. That help comes in the form of the Youth Empowerment Advocates for Health Team or the Y.E.A.H Team, a peer-to-peer health education program.
The Y.E.A.H team was started several years ago as a way to impact the rising numbers of sexually-transmitted disease in our local teens. The premise behind forming this team was hearing health messages from your peers would be better received and more effective than hearing it from older adults. The youth were recruited from area high schools and trained on health conditions related to sexual health. They then went out in groups to deliver their education programs to other teens in a variety of settings. Eventually, they took on other health issues impacting teens including hygiene, nutrition, peer pressure, violence and bullying. This strategy has proved very effective in reaching youths, providing health awareness on a variety of issues and encouraging youth to make better choices.
The Y.E.A.H Team is headed by Aaron Morris. Morris has a special love for this program. As a former “at-risk” youth himself, Morris wants to help other young people turn their lives around too before death, disease or the jails can claim them. This year, Morris’ team includes April Epps, Malcom Nelson, and Patrick Govan. Former Y.E.A.H team member Tracey Flenoid still helps out when he can.
What’s interesting about the Y.E.A.H Team is that while the youths are providing a valuable service to their peers and the community, they also get a lot out of it in return. Govan states, “Before I became a part of the Youth Empowerment Program, I didn’t have the proper guidance in my life… Being a part of this program turned my life around forever by giving me the opportunity to work and be a part of a great team.” Epps shared that “working for and with the public is no easy task… but it really helps you to grow up.”
Flenoid, a former Y.E.A.H Team member who has graduated to full-time employment with the City Health Department also chimed in on the benefits of his Y.E.A.H Team experience. He stated, “Ever since I became a youth advocate for the Y.E.A.H Team, I have been inspired to take a positive stand within society… Instead of conforming in the direction of negative forces within my community, I took charge of my actions to become a responsible man of respect and integrity.” Although Nelson will be heading off to the University of Missouri-St. Louis this fall, he benefited so much from his participation in the Y.E.A.H Team that he is planning to continue working with the program in addition to his college coursework.
This team is in high demand within the community, doing presentations nearly every week. If you would like the Y.E.A.H Team to do a presentation for your youth group, please contact Aaron Morris at (314) 657-1487 or MorrisaA@stlouis-mo.gov.
City of St. Louis
Department of Health